“I believe that the best learning process of any kind of craft is just to look at the work of others.” – Wole Soyinka, Poet and Playwright
Recently, I was scheduled to work with a High School catcher at a local academy. When I arrived at the facility, I found that a team had rented two batting cages. It seemed that the kids were 12 or 13. Two coaches were running the practice, and at the time I started watching, each were front-tossing in their respective cages. But what really caught my eye was what was going on outside the cages. A few kids were wandering around the facility. Another kid was watching a lesson that was going on in another cage. Two kids were sitting on the ground with their heads in their hands. And another kid…I kid you not…was playing video games on his phone.
When I begin every camp or clinic, I always start with these words, “You will learn more during this camp by watching me and others than you will by actually doing the drills.” And throughout the camp, I am always making sure that every player is watching others (when it’s not their turn). I never hesitate to stop a drill if someone is not paying attention. I don’t expect the kids to master the techniques that I am teaching during their time at the camp; but I do expect them to UNDERSTAND what I am teaching. There is simply not enough time for them to become masters; but they have plenty of time to comprehend what is being taught. And I believe that the players that truly grasp the concepts are the ones that intently watch me, other coaches, and other players in the camp. They listen with both their ears and their eyes.
Albert Bandura, a psychologist and learning theorist, has been identified as first noting Observational Learning. Observational Learning occurs after seeing, retaining, then replicating behavior we see from others. Bandura first demonstrated Observational Learning in his 1961 Bobo-doll experiment. In his experiment, Bandura had children watch as parents hit a doll. After watching the aggressive behavior from the parents, Bandura noticed that the children then displayed the same aggressive behavior. Observational Learning is the theory that many people cite when explaining why children should not engage in violent video games. They believe that children who play these violent video games will ultimately begin to replicate the violent behavior.
Observational learning is the type of learning that I believe should be stressed in camps/clinics; or any environment where kids are receiving ‘short-term coaching’. Short-term coaching is where we (coaches) have access to kids for a short period of time. It’s unlikely that the kids will master new techniques over a brief period of time. But, we can realistically expect that they understand what they should be doing. And this can only occur if they engage in Observational Learning. But, as we all know, we have to keep the kids active during these sessions. So, Observational Learning should be mixed with a fair amount of activity where players are working to replicate the desired behavior.
In 2012, Robert Greene wrote the New York Times Bestseller, Mastery. In his book, Greene examined the lives of successful individuals, both present and past, and puts forth the traits that made them masters in their respective fields. One common trait was that each individual possessed was that they spent time in deep observation. As Charles Darwin began his journey around the world, he spent the initial few months aboard the ship simply studying others and the “unwritten rules of the ship.” This observation helped him avoid unwanted battles on the ship with the crew and allowed him the opportunity to spend the remaining months engaged in productive scientific experiments. He would carry this technique of deep observation to every new destination he traveled; and would become possibly the greatest observer of nature the world has ever known.
Greene wrote that individuals, when first learning new skills, should impress others “because of the seriousness of your desire to learn.” We cannot, and should not, allow kids’ attention to wander. If they are not directly involved in the drill, they should be watching others as they perform. By the end of practice, they should not just be physically tired; but they should be mentally tired as well. Demand their attention and help them understand the importance of learning; and that they learn with their ears…and EYES!